By Tamara Niewolny, for Wausau Pilot and Review

A little over two weeks into this temporary new way of life, and I find myself more connected to this community than I have ever been.

Before I even heard of coronavirus, I was pretty much going through the motions of the day to day grind of working from home, running a business and balancing it all with my family.  I was wrapped up in my own household and my own needs, and with the exception of some volunteer work that I do through my business, I really didn’t get out and roll up my sleeves to help others on a regular basis.

It is during times of struggle where we can find ourselves weak and vulnerable.  Perhaps these struggles make us want to reach out and help others because we can empathize with having the needs that many struggling families and individuals in our community face on any given day.

As days started to tick by, my social media feed began to get overwhelmed with a lot of statistics, questions, fear, and anger.  In the midst of all these posts, someone would post they really needed toilet paper for their grandfather, or that there was no sanitizer for an assisted living center. I would see a post about someone offering to spare a couple of rolls, and another making DIY sanitizer. Posts from schools wanting to feed the children and parents wondering how they would be able to feed their families.  As another day went by and I saw more and more of people’s needs and those wanting to help, I decided to create a group to try and connect the helpers with the needs.

As I clicked submit, I prayed to please let this do some good and be a bright spot on our community.  I can now tell you, prayers do get answered.

As needs rolled in, so did the helpers. In fact, the helpers outnumbered the needs.

Small businesses who had to shut their doors were asking how they could help.  Marie, with Verve salon was offering her Verve team up to volunteer and help with any needs right away. There was a moment where a non-profit could not locate formula and we went out to see if we could help find some. We sent a photo to one of the group members of some formula we found and she informed me that Pinnacle Tax and Accounting had donated funds to help pick up more formula and needs for them. As we were checking out, we explained to the cashier at Target that we were not hoarding, but helping to get formula to those who needed it, she gave us an additional 10 percent off and honored the gift cards we earned, which in turn we were able to buy more for them.

Jane, from BoxDrop Mattress & Furniture Direct is another small business that has been readily available to assist with needs and has donated many items.  Local businesses who have PPE are donating their supplies to help keep health workers safe.

Local businesses are coming up with fun and creative ways to keep in touch with the community and offer virtual activities. Unbroken Fitness has offered a free group with weekly and monthly challenges. Art Painting by Pouneh has offered free virtual painting classes and has even offered to deliver supplies if people purchase them.  I have seen Voss Studios post about her and her mom bringing their dogs to the windows of a retirement home to put smiles on the faces of those who live there.

There has been a wave of “Porch Pickups” where people share items with those who essentially need them by leaving them on the porch and arranging a pick up time.   People are dusting off their sewing machines to help make masks for those who need them, whether it is in the health care field, or for those with weakened immune systems or high risk. Companies are offering free materials to those making masks and it has been an overwhelming wave of support throughout the community.

Schools are working with local nonprofits such as Peyton’s Promise to feed the children who are not in school at this time. The Community Foundation is offering relief to nonprofits whose resources have been exhausted.

No Kid Hungry is offering real time funding and assistance for schools, early child care centers and community organizations that are making sure kids have access to the meals they need. The United Way is a huge presence in the community efforts to ensure that everyone gets help. The Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce has several resources and guides to keep local businesses connected with the community and running.  hey also have a Childcare Connection to help health care workers and others who are working right now connect with childcare for their children. Places like The Neighbor’s Place and The Open Door and The Boys and Girls club are all offering free meals and food to anyone who may need them in the community.

College students and teachers are offering to help kids and parents who are finding themselves in homeschooling situations. Distilleries, like Timekeeper Distillery, are being innovative and creating a much needed supply of sanitizer.

People are offering to help deliver food for meals on wheels, and bring essentials to the elderly who may not be able to leave their homes.

People are finding ways to connect and bring joy to one another by putting Teddy bears in their windows so families can hunt for them. Others are sharing inspiring messages in colored chalk on their driveways for all the people walking to enjoy.

Kids are learning to make gorgeous “stained glass windows” and others are taping up hearts for Heart Hunters, where you put hearts in your windows, trees, or on your mailbox, and the kids can look for hearts while on walks.

There are many ways you can help others right now. You can offer to make check in calls on the elderly through Faith In Action. Check in by calling those who may be lonely or need a pick me up. If you run a business or you have a talent, offer to do some fun activities virtually.

You can donate blood or plasma as this is in high need right now. Many are writing notes to cheer up those in assisted care and nursing facilities. Others are sending thank you notes to our health care workers.  If you have an excess of something others may need, you can help by donating those items. Right now there is a shortage of thermometers and covers, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. If you have extra or can help find these things, many nursing homes and assisted care facilities are in desperate need.

In the past two weeks, my eyes and heart have been opened like never before. Our community is rich with helpers among us. Helpers willing to give all they can, and when they have exhausted their resources, the helpers have help from the amazing foundations in our community who are rising to the challenge to ensure that they are well stocked and prepared to continue helping. People are crafting to connect and sewing to provide and quietly leaving much needed essentials on porches.

We will get through this, not alone, but together.